After a lifetime of living and eating in Rome, Elizabeth Minchilli is an expert on the city’s cuisine. While she’s proud to share everything she knows about Rome, she now wants to show her devoted readers that the rest of Italy is a culinary treasure trove just waiting to be explored.
Divided geographically, Eating My Way Through Italy looks at all the different aspects of Italian food culture. Whether it’s pizza in Naples, deep fried calamari in Venice, anchovies in Amalfi, an elegant dinner in Milan, gathering and cooking capers on Pantelleria, or hunting for truffles in Umbria each chapter includes, not just anecdotes, personal stories and practical advice, but also recipes that explore the cultural and historical references that make these subjects timeless.
Spaghettone al Pomodoro
Serves 4 to 5
While I was in Gragnano, I had the great luck to not only visit the Pasta Gentile factory but also to hang out in the kitchen with Mamma Maria, the matriarch of the Zampino family that owns the company. She prepared various pastas for me to try. Naturally, the sauces were simple, to bring out the pure taste of the pasta.
My favourite was the spaghettone she made with a simple tomato sauce. Spaghettone is Gentile’s signature pasta and is a toothsome thick strand of thick spaghetti measuring 2.7 millimetres in diameter. Since there are so few ingredients, the specific choice really does make a huge difference. For this sauce, Mamma Maria, like most Italians, uses canned pelati San Marzano tomatoes. She actually follows these tomatoes from seed to can, but if you can’t manage that see the resources below for the real thing.
1 pound (½ kilo) Spaghettone Gentile
¼ cup (70 grams) extra-virgin olive oil
1 smashed garlic clove
8 fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
One 26-ounce (750-gram) can San Marzano tomatoes
½ teaspoon salt
Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta. While the pasta cooks (if you are using spaghettone, then it will take a while) make the sauce.
Pour the olive oil in a sauté pan large enough to hold all of the drained, cooked pasta. Add the smashed garlic clove and the basil. After 1 minute, add the canned tomatoes with their juice and salt. Turn the heat to high and cook quickly, for about 15 minutes, using a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes.
Taste and adjust for seasoning.
Drain the pasta when it is just short of al dente, retaining 1 cup of the cooking water. Put the drained pasta into the pan with the sauce, and stir over medium heat to finish the cooking, until al dente. If the sauce seems too dry, add a bit of the reserved cooking water.
Serve garnished with fresh basil leaves and some grated Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.
Excerpted from EATING MY WAY THROUGH ITALY: Heading Off the Main Roads to Discover the Hidden Treasures of the Italian Table by Elizabeth Minchilli. Copyright © 2018 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.